Emails Should Do More Than Inform
Recognition is at the heart of everything Turnkey provides for peer-to-peer clients. Recognition manifests in many forms—products, personal outreach, social media call outs, thank-you notes and more. The whole point of recognition is to install and reinforce a self-label.
Turnkey’s in-house behavioral expert, Otis Fulton, informs us that the term “self-label” comes from psychology, specifically an area called self-perception theory, which dates back to the 1960s. One important finding involves the power of nouns over verbs. Using nouns results in stronger preferences on the part of the reader.
For example, for their study "Being What You Say: The Effect of Essentialist Linguistic Labels on Preferences," researchers Gregory M. Walton and Mahzarin R. Banaji had subjects read statements like:
- Jennifer drinks coffee a lot.
- Jennifer spends a lot of time indoors.
- Jennifer watches baseball a lot.
This first set of statements emphasizes the verbs. Other participants were shown slightly different statements:
- Jennifer is a coffee-drinker.
- Jennifer is an indoors person.
- Jennifer is a baseball fan.
These statements emphasize the nouns.
The second set of statements impacted participants more strongly. Although both sets of statements convey the same meaning, by using nouns the reader was given a better idea about Jennifer. Instead of answering the question, "what does Jennifer do?", they tell the reader who Jennifer is.
When we recognize someone for supporting a nonprofit, we don’t thank that person for doing something, we thank them for being something. We know that this will result in a stronger connection to the organization.
Julian May, Turnkey’s ace creative director, saw it this way:
“A key factor of how email copy helps strengthen a person's self-label is that it acts as a private conversation between the participant and the nonprofit.
“In emails, we use singular subject pronouns that emphasize that the message content is a direct statement from the nonprofit to the recipient, directly addressing their fundraising situation. Rather than making the recipient feel like only a part of a whole, this allows them to recognize themselves as an individually valuable member of the nonprofit's network.
“In many ways, emails are a form of recognition, acknowledging the fundraising progress of the individual and cheering them on to their next goal. Receiving this recognition directly from the nonprofit in reaction to their action creates a positive experience for the participant that enriches and encourages their fundraising journey while also solidifying their self-label as a cause warrior.”
- Email content is a form of recognition that can help create and reinforce a self-label.
- When you are behind the eight ball and on deadline, ask smart people for help (writing your blog). Thanks, guys.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.